A devilish delight

Trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg performs in the Hot Jazz series.

Bria Skonberg (photo credit: SETH CASHMAN)
Bria Skonberg
(photo credit: SETH CASHMAN)
Followers of the Hot Jazz series might be in for a torrid time when Bria Skonberg brings her trumpet, voice and alluring stage presence to these parts for seven shows between July 4 and 11. The Canadian-born musician’s performance was recently described by the Wall Street Journal as playing “like a red hot devil,” although the jazz critic did mitigate the satanic epithet somewhat by adding that Skonberg “sings like a dream.” So perhaps the audiences in Rehovot, Herzliya, Modi’in, Tel Aviv and Haifa don’t have too much to worry about after all.
While she is here, Skonberg will primarily play her singular renditions of eminently danceable early jazz, although her latest album, Into Your Own, indicates that she feeds off a number of styles and genres.
“I fell in love with playing the trumpet because of what we call ‘hot jazz’ of the 1920s and 1930s, music that has a higher energy to it,” she notes. “That’s the style of music I’ll be presenting at the concerts in Israel.”
That seems to suit Skonberg’s personality and musicianship.
“The trumpet is very much up front and plays the melody strongly and is a lead voice in the band, so that’s probably where I came from,” she says.
Skonberg’s early musical efforts were made on a very different instrument, although she says the initial grounding helped her when she got around to blowing her own horn.
“I started out on the piano when I was about seven years old. That was nice because by the time I picked up the trumpet [at the age of 11], I already knew how to read the notes and the rhythms,” she says.
Still, the trumpet is one of the most difficult instruments to master, and you have to keep your lips in good shape.
Naturally, good breathing also comes into it, and Skonberg had a head start there, too.
“The secret is really being able to push as much air as possible [through the trumpet]. Fortunately, I have always played a lot of sports, so I keep my lungs in good shape.
That translates to singing as well,” she explains.
There have been a number of stellar trumpeter-vocalists through the annals of jazz, such as Louis Armstrong, some of whose works will feature in the Hot Jazz shows – e.g., Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker. While Armstrong and Gillespie were bubbly characters who exuded an infectious geniality, Baker was more the romantic introspective type.
“I got into Chet Baker when I went to college, when I started listening to more sophisticated jazz. To begin with, I was drawn more to the entertainers, like Louis Prima [known as the King of Swing]. All the early experience I got from playing jazz in British Columbia was from playing in big bands, like the style of Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie, or playing in a small band that focused on the [Armstrong 1920s band] Hot Five and trying to play in that New Orleans style,” she says.
That not only suited Skonberg’s own sunny approach to life and music, but it also gave her a solid foundation on which to subsequently expand as she worked her way through the evolution of later styles of jazz.
“I got the knowledge in a kind of sequential order,” she says.
That makes perfect sense. After all, you have to know where you come from in order to make your way forward.
“When you read a book, you don’t start from the middle, do you?” she adds with a laugh.
The 31-year-old musician also fed off more contemporary commercial sounds as she furthered her jazz development. Into Your Own, for example includes a reference to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” from his 1976 landmark double album Songs in the Key of Life, and there is a charming reading of The Beatles’ “Julia” in the track list too.
“I am a product of my environment, and I have been interested in The Beatles for a long time,” says Skonberg. “My parents grew in the 1960s, so when I was growing up I was listening to a lot of Elvis, the soundtrack of [the film] American Graffiti and pop culture stuff, and also old country style, The Beatles, and I also listened to whatever the other teenagers were listening to at the time. So I have a genuine love for all those things from an early age. And as I have been lucky enough to travel the world, I have picked up all kinds of inspiration along the way.”
That goes some way to explaining the eclectic styles and sounds to be had on Into Your Own.
“I like hearing the sort of harmonies people get into in different parts of the world. I love music that has a sense of allure to it, and exotic tunes. That’s what I’m drawn to,” she says.
While barely into her 30s, Skonberg tends to dig deep into the roots of the music she plays.
“I’m an old soul,” she says. “The blues, especially older blues, is the human element that kind of gives the music soul, and I think that maybe not enough people connect to the blues. It’s a very powerful place to be; and if you can express that to an audience, I think that you can express a lot through that.”
It doesn’t look like Skonberg will have any problem at all getting local audiences on her side.
For tickets and more information: http:// www.hotjazz.co.il/. Rehovot (08) 668- 3881/2; Herzliya, Modi’in, Tel Aviv and Haifa 1-700-500-039.